Keeping Kids Safe During Back To School

There seems to have been an alarming trend of reported attempted abductions in the last few weeks. Doing a quick search on the internet, pages of stories popped up about increased school security and attempted abductions. Not all of the stories were current, but it is something of which we should all be aware and vigilant.

I have included a link the this article from The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). Abduction attempts increase when children go back to school, and according to the article, children are most vulnerable going between school, activities and home.

The NCMEC also has two programs, one entitled Take 25, one called NetSmartz Workshop, which provides parents, teachers and other concerned adults tools to help teach kids how to be safe. NCMEC also has a program entitled Child ID which will help parents gather appropriate information that will be most helpful to the police if a child is abducted.

Another resource is TAALK. TAALK has local chapters, email tips, and many other resources that can help us all keep kids safe.

Abuse is much more likely to happen within the family or by a trusted family friend, but abductions are real and do occur. Let’s all work together to keep kids safe in any way we can.

If you have other suggestions, please write them in the comments. Every little thing we do is important.

Self Care

Today I need to take my glasses back. They do not fit right and I tried this new lens that is supposed to make my sight more clear and focused. The problem is that with the slightest bump of the frame, that specific spot that is supposed to enhance my vision gets moved. Then I get a migraine. So the new technology isn’t really helping me. It’s making me miserable.

This is an example of self-care. I would really like to just say it doesn’t bother me that much and go on, hoping that it would stop being an issue. It won’t. I’ll have to keep going back to the store to get the glasses readjusted and suffering through the headaches.

I am a person motivated by helping others. I always want to put other people before myself because I don’t want to be viewed as selfish.

Self-care is not selfish! In order to do the work that Jennifer and I do, and most people do, we have to take care of ourselves. A lot of people struggle with that idea. It is much easier to help someone else than to admit that we need help or need a break. If we need help or a break, we might look vulnerable and someone else might try to take advantage of us.

I am vulnerable and sometimes I need help or a break. There. I said it. The sky did not fall and the world did not stop spinning.

One thing I have learned is that if I don’t take care of myself, I will burn out. I can’t help anyone else if I’m not strong in myself. I can, but I have a stronger possibility of hurting them and myself. I am learning that being stubborn really isn’t worth all that. I don’t want to hurt anyone and I still have too much to do and say burn myself out.

If you’ve ever flown on an airplane and are still listening when they give you the talk about safety and what to do, they actually give a very good example of self care. If the need should arrive that you have to put on the oxygen mask, put on your mask first. Do it before you help the child, the elderly person, or whomever next to you. Take care of yourself first and you will be better able to help another.

Yes, it sounds selfish, but you cannot be your best self and help someone else to the best of your ability if you don’t help yourself first. I am learning this every day, but it is one thing I know for sure is true.

As survivors of sexual abuse, and I would broaden that to survivors of society, we are supposed to only care for others. That sounds all nice and practical and self-sacrificing, but it is really absurd. When you can take time to express your needs and learn to care for yourself, you actually put forth a much stronger self. People may give you flack about taking care of yourself, but it is primarily because they are envious of what you have and are stuck. They don’t know how to care for themselves or even where to start.

I also have residual voices in my head of people like my father. In learning to care for myself and do self-care, I had to learn to tell his voice to shut up. He shows no care for anyone; yet expected me as a child, to care for all of his adult needs. It was inappropriate and abusive. It left me with scars on my self-esteem I am still trying to mend, but at some point, my own voice became louder than his and I realized that his voice was not as important as my own. That was a big and scary step for me. Remembering his voice and how it made me feel and knowing how I feel now, I would never go back to listening to his belittling, self-serving voice. (And yes, there is a difference between self-care and being self-serving.)

Like everyone else, I’m a work in process. I’m not always good at self-care and there are times when I can’t take care of myself right at that moment, but then I need to take the time at another period of life and do something I enjoy. It is important and vital to my life.

Today for self-care, I am taking my glasses back and getting some new sandals. If you are unsure that you are worthy of self-care and haven’t gotten to that point, Jennifer and I give you permission. You are worthy and the world will really be better if you learn the practice.

If not today, what are you doing this week for self-care?

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Hearing, Listening and Speaking

As you may have guessed, I talk a lot about sexual abuse. You may think that makes me a loud mouth, and in some ways, it does. There are certain situations in which I do not hesitate to speak out, but there are other situations in which I must be quiet, even if I wish I could speak.

Each survivor I encounter has a story. It is wholly and completely theirs. Sometimes, it touches my story. But I must be careful about saying what I know. It is not my place to tell the story of another. There are illustrations I use and parts of stories I convey, but I either try to make it general enough that anyone would be hard pressed to identify the exact person, or I ask the person’s permission and try to let the person read what I have written before I publish it. If it is not ok, I won’t use what I’ve written.

Jennifer and I have tried hard to create a save place where people can tell their stories. The story wall allows people to be anonymous if they choose. (We’d love to have more submissions if you are so inclined and in a good place to do that.) The problem with us for the story wall is that people put their stories on it and then are vulnerable. We don’t know if they have adequate support to heal. We also don’t know if their abuser will find their story and cause them more harm, and vicariously cause us problems for letting the survivor’s story be posted. Sad that the abuser can cause the victim and other people trouble for speaking out. That’s another story entirely.

It is often the case that I go somewhere and I know something about someone, but I can’t say what I know. Usually, they know I know, but most other people don’t. It is not my story to share and even though I want everyone to tell their story and heal, they have to tell it in their own way and when they are ready. It is their healing journey; not mine.

You are not alone. Spanish

This is an issue in my family. My father is a pedophile and his crimes did not affect just me. I know of others, but they do not necessarily know about each other. They are on their own path of healing and even though I have found it helps me to talk about my experience, that is not true for everyone else.

There are situations in which survivors are not in a safe enough emotional space that they can talk about it openly. Sometimes, they are just plain unsafe. Their abusers are violent, dangerous people. I would never encourage anyone to speak if they are unsafe doing so. I would probably encourage them to find a way to speak in which they are safe and empowered, but the reality is they must proceed with caution. I have to speak cautiously in situations like that. And sometimes that is really, really hard.

I want to support people in the best way I can and I am fond of the saying, “Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes.” The reality is that that isn’t always healing. Then I have to step back and listen to the survivor and help them find their own path to healing. And the survivor’s own way, is by far the best. It is tailored to them and what they need.

It is a more meaningful experience for me to be a part of their healing because in their own way, they are claiming what they need. It isn’t about me in that situation. It’s about them and validating what they need. It is always an honor for me to hear people’s stories and I have to also remember to honor them where they are on their path and encourage them on to hope and healing in the way that is best for them. It really, truly, isn’t all about me. It’s about each survivor finding their own way to heal.

 

Tori Amos Quote

Getting Equipped

I’m not well-versed at camping.  Even picnicking is an organizational challenge for me.  I never feel like I show up prepared, with the right equipment.  It seems to come naturally for other people, and they appear to have way more equipment than me.

I sometimes  feel the same way about healthy, intimate relationships…unprepared and lacking important equipment for a successful experience.  I sometimes get hooked by comments that indicate disagreement, or worse, disapproval from someone I love.  I think many survivors feel this way.  It comes from living in abusive relationships where disapproval and disagreement were used unfairly to control and diminish.  I’ve been working on and learning about healthy relationships for years.  Still, when someone close to me occasionally tells me s/he thinks I’m wrong, or that I made a bad decision, I feel unprepared and ill-equipped to respond.  So, my therapist and I have been working on equipping me for healthier interactions.  I’d like to share what’s working for me:

  1. I ask myself, how would I react if it didn’t feel like an attack?  My normal response when I’m not feeling threatened, is humor.  So, we practice one-liner responses like, “My choice!” “That’s my job!” and “Too late, already decided!” all said with a smile and a wink.  It helps to have some one-liners for those times I feel defensive and might otherwise respond in a way that I don’t feel good about.
  2. I remove myself from the scene temporarily.  If I’m feeling panicky and it seems like an over-reaction I just walk into the next room, or outside.  Saying that I have to go to the bathroom works really well for this.  Sometimes just a few minutes away from the scene helps me decide how I truly and authentically want to respond.
  3. I ask questions.  “Did I just hear you say …?”  Many times, when I react with panic to a comment it’s because what was said reminds me of a past experience.
  4. I talk to myself in private.  I ask myself what is triggering me about this situation?  I remind myself that I am safe when I need to.  I find it’s really important to actually talk out loud.  Trying to work it out silently in my head usually just gets my thoughts caught in an endless loop.
  5. I touch something in my environment that brings me back into the present.  Sometimes rubbing a piece of fabric, touching my own face, or carrying a touchstone can be helpful.
  6. If it feels like it’s not getting better over time, I reach out for help.  Talking it over with a trusted friend, a counselor or the person that wounded me can often help.

Of course, reacting negatively to a situation, comment, or  conversation can also be an appropriate response to a harmful event.  Trust your instincts, be kind and gentle with yourself, and don’t assume that your reaction is wrong.

How do sort out your feelings in situations that trigger you?  What are some of the habits/techniques that work for you?

Someone Else Has Walked This Path

Our dear friend, Leah T., who generously gave us permission to use her pictures as the background for Signs of Hope, sent this picture and this idea. The words, photograph and idea are hers. Thanks Leah! This will probably become a new subset of Signs of Hope.

Please share this. We all have wondered if we were the only one. Someone out there is struggling and needs to know they are not the only one. Please post this to pass on hope.

Same Path

What a Pain

I hate pain.  God, I hate pain.   Physical pain is awful, and especially frightening when the source hasn’t been diagnosed and I don’t know how long it will last.  But emotional/psychic and spiritual pain bring a whole new level to the game. I’ve been in some pain lately.  It was triggered by the recent news stories about Penn State officials being charged for covering up the sexual abuse that was happening there.  Abuse that they were informed about, but did nothing to stop.  News of these callous and cowardly acts drive me nuts with pain for a few days.  I feel it when I read about Catholic and other Church cover-ups too.  Those stories connect me to pain from my own abuse story.  I told several people in positions of authority who failed me, I was abused by a minister who was already in trouble with his behavior in the church, but who was moved by the bishop to have a fresh start, and I was even abused later by pastoral counselors from whom I sought help. It’s always painful for me at first going to a new church, or living through a change in ministers at my church.  I feel very unsafe until I can get to know new male clergy and feel confident that they are not going to hurt me.  The pain I have felt during some of these transitions has made me want to stop going to church altogether at times.  I once asked Marie Fortune if I would ever get to a place where I would not feel this pain every time I go to a new church, or get a new pastor, and she responded very honestly, “Probably not, Jennifer, because you know things other people don’t know, or refuse to know.”  And then she added, “but you can use that knowledge, which gives you pain, to be an advocate and to help make churches safer places.”  Those were inspiring words, and I have tried ever since to live up to that.  In Jackie, I have found another person who is choosing to use her pain to make the world a safer place as well. If you are in pain, if you have been sexually or otherwise abused, first know that you are not alone and that it is not your fault.  But also know that your pain has the power to inform you and to transform you.  Your pain, your abuse, your story is uniquely yours…and if you look the pain right in the eye, you will see a way that you can help others.  Healing is not really about erasing the pain.  Healing is gaining the capacity to deal with it.  Sharing your story does not erase the pain, but allowing others the blessing of hearing it lightens the load and makes it easier to bear.

suffering quote

 

A Friend And A Sister

A little reading music. (WordPress is angry with me today and won’t let me tag, but here’s the link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tek1Wh3jrWk)

A few weeks ago, I reconnected with an old friend. This friend is someone I had never actually met, but I feel I know her better than some people I see all the time.

She was my pen pal all through middle school and high school, probably much longer than that. We both tried to remember when we started writing. Too much life has happened since then and we can’t remember the exact year, but suffice it to say, we’ve known each other for a long time.

Almost every week we would exchange letters, telling each other stories about our lives. Sometimes it was telling the little things. I remember her telling me about showing pigs in 4-H. We would write about our pets and the books we read. We would write about the anxieties we each had, normal for young girls our age. In later years, I would write about the trial with my father and how horrible life was at the time. I did not know that she could not write about how horrible her life was at the time.  I could not seem to stop talking about it and she was not in a safe enough position to utter the words.

Most survivors are in a position much similar to hers than to mine. I could not stop telling, but most survivors cannot start. The ugliness and shame of the abuse is too much and most people do not tell at the time, and many do not ever tell.

I did not tell because I am exceptional. I told because I thought my life was ruined, but I was hoping I could help anyone else from going through that horrible, sickening pain. It is not my fault, but I was unsuccessful in that endeavor.

It is hard for me to remember when the abuse started because it seems like it was always happening. That put me in an awkward position because I was lonely and desperately wanted to have friends. Part of having a friend at that time was inviting that person to over to spend the night. That was anxiety-producing on many accounts. First, I had to find someone who might like me enough to come over. I didn’t really think there were that many people who liked me that much. Then if I found someone I thought liked me, I had to bring them to my house. I had to bring them within harm’s way. I had to ask them to stay over night in the dragon’s lair, knowing that I could not protect them the entire time they were there because I knew my father was so smooth in getting to a new victim. I did not have a lot of friends over, but sometimes the loneliness won out and I found the nerve to ask my mother, then my father, if someone could stay the night.

My friend to whom I wrote was a slightly different scenario. She was far enough away that it was not easy for us to get together. Neither of us could drive, so that made it even more difficult. At one point, I remember planning for her to go with us to Disney World. Going on a vacation of any kind was a big deal for my family. We didn’t have a lot of money and often didn’t go on a trip at all. We were flying to Florida and I was planning to ask my parents to buy another ticket for my friend.

On so many levels, what in the world was I thinking? I was putting her in danger and asking my parents to spend more money. Neither was a good idea, but at the time, I was lonely and scared and, after all, my birthday fell on a day during the trip, so couldn’t her coming be part of my present?

I asked my mother first, and she said she’d have to talk to my father. That was a common theme in my house, which most of the time, did not turn out well. I remember writing to my friend progressively. I’ve asked my mother. She said she’d ask my father. She said she asked him. Now we wait.

It should come as no surprise that he would not let her come along. I do not remember what part of the letters I sent her, but I sent some part. She remembered.

When we met a few weeks ago, we talked about this time in our shared memory. She distinctly remembered it, when I was unsure whether I’d even sent her the letters about it. It was about so much more than Disney World. She said when we met recently, “I thought if we could be together, at least there would be two of us.” We would each have a friend and we would each have someone with whom we could fight against the abuse.

In our own unknowing way, we were and are like wonder-twins. Fighting, with all we had, against the evil with which we were living. Not completely knowing what the other was going through, even though we were connected. And now, we are still fighting to tell our stories and be heard in our own ways.

It is a reminder to me that even though we do not always know the stories of those around us, everyone has a story. Everyone is fighting and struggling and in our own way, we are all trying to find our voices.

As you struggle and fight, you are not alone. Listen with as open a heart as you can to the stories of others, and tell your story in the loudest voice that you can, even if it is now just a whisper.

Namaste.